Best Writing: Giants Among Us
October 10, 2013
By October, competitive pumpkin growers have put in months of labor, gallons of water, and now, finally, they're getting ready for weigh-ins. NHPR’s Todd Bookman reports that in one family, bragging rights are also on the line.
TB: The Pattersons, Erin and Matt, live off a quiet road in New Ipswich. Dirt driveway on the left, beige house in the middle, pumpkins on the right.
MP: So this is it, this is Lola.
TB: Lola is the prize of the patch this year. She sits heavy in the garden, bigger than you can get your arms around.
More yellow than orange, the pumpkin is hidden behind a partition of burlap.
MP: That is to keep people from seeing it from the road, cause I don’t want them to steal it. I don’t want little punk a** kids trying to roll it down the hill and smash it.
TB: Neighborhood youth may pose a threat, but the bigger challenge pulls up in a gray pick-up.
DP: My name is David Patterson. I’m Matt’s father. Taught him everything he knows.
TB: David lives a few miles down the road. He’s a retired high school biology teacher with 30 years of pumpkin growing know-how.
MP: I’ve grown the pumpkins all my life. Since he was a little kid, even back to the other house. We’ve been in this house 25 or 6 years now, and he probably still remembers when he was 5 years old we were in the other house, I was growing big pumpkins. So, this is something he grew up with, and now that he has his own house, he thinks he can beat me.
TB: This is the third year of the family competition, and, to be clear, the Pattersons only compete with each other. Matt guesses Lola may top 400 pounds, far short of the world record of 2,009 set last year in Rhode Island.
It takes good genes to get your fruit that big. The Pattersons bought seed packets from the same online specialty store.
MP: $15 for two seeds. I think they came from a 1,000 pounder. They had good blood line.
TB: Back in April, Matt’s father started about a dozen of them under a grow light.
After the last frost, they were transplanted outdoors, where the teams took different paths.
Dad got his hands on some horse manure for his plot. Matt and Erin went with cow.
Dad stuck with organic pesticides. Matt and Erin…
EP: No, no. Definitely not.
TB: Both watered consistently, and put tarps over the young giants to protect them from the mid-summer sun.
They also battled pests like the squash vine borer.
Now, with the nights getting cold, there’s not much left to do, and David likes his chances.
DP: Mine is not as high as yours, but it is wide. I think it is denser. Yours looks kind of fluffy. Mine looks kind of meaty and dense.
MP: Yours looks like a sugar pumpkin.
DP: The scale will tell the story.
Weigh-in will take place this weekend at a local scrap yard. Loser takes the winner out for a steak dinner, beer, and…pumpkin pie.
For NHPR News, I’m Todd Bookman.
HOST OUT: We’ve got pictures of the Patterson family pumpkins at NHPR.org, and we’ll post the weigh-in results as soon as they’re official. Both generations plan on carving their efforts, and saving seeds for next year’s completion.